Lucerna Music Bar
|Simmonds, far left, with DeSalvo, Whiting and Grimm.|
Mr. Culture took a break from highbrow hobnobbing last night to get back to his roots – everyone’s roots, really. Blues is the foundation of modern pop, from the Beatles and Rolling Stones to Michael Jackson. We don’t get nearly enough of it in Prague, at least not of the caliber that Kim Simmonds and Company brought to town last night.
Simmonds is the founder and torch-bearer of Savoy Brown, a British blues band that had a good run in the States during the late ’60s and early ’70s, but never really caught on in the UK and Europe. The ever-changing lineup has always been cited as part of the problem, though that’s an understatement; not only the players, but the sound and identity of the group changed from album to album. Simmonds himself was kicked out of the band twice by his brother Harry, who was managing Savoy Brown during the ’60s. (For a complete history, check the bio page on http://www.savoybrown.com/index2.html)
The latest version of the band features Simmonds on guitar and occasional vocals, the versatile Joe Whiting on lead vocals and sax, and a solid rhythm section of Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnett Grimm on drums. The players hail from the Syracuse, New York area, where Simmonds relocated some 20 years ago.
They put on a high-energy show that’s more rock than blues, alternating between old favorites (mostly title tracks from early albums like Street Corner Talking) and new material being prepared for a CD release early next year. There was an occasional taste of rockabilly, like Tell Mama, and a lot of audience interaction, with the sparse crowd being invited to sing along and bark like dogs, and Simmonds sharing bits of the band’s history.
At one point, as he was using an electronic tuner to change from “1960s tuning” to “2010 tuning,” Simmonds opined that the music sounded better in the pre-electronic era, “when we were playing slightly out of tune.” There were moments when he seemed to be carrying on that tradition last night, but for the most part Simmonds is an accomplished and proficient blues-rock player. While not in the major leagues of guitar heroes, he has an impressive repertoire of licks and styles, and can play some commanding white-boy electric blues. Generally, though, he prefers rock riffs (think screaming, repeated high notes) and posturing – by the end of the show, he was playing on his knees.
The new song that Simmonds is hoping will hit the charts with a bullet, Voodoo Moon, wasn’t as catchy as some of the older material, like Hellbound Train. What worked best, interestingly, were covers of standards like Little Red Rooster and Wang Dang Doodle. The band can crank it up, especially on straight-up rock numbers like She’s Got the Heat, but was most impressive when they laid back a bit and let Simmonds step up with some sweet, B.B. King-style blues. They should do more of that.
But that’s not what jacks the crowds, and last night’s small turnout lacked nothing in enthusiasm. During Wang Dang Doodle, one pumped-up local, who looked like an unshaven escapee from a prison cell, danced to the front of stage waving a purple bra above his head (don’t ask). John Mayall didn’t generate that kind of enthusiasm earlier this year at Lucerna, and truth to tell, Simmonds and his band put on a better show.
A good sampling of what Savoy Brown did in Prague last night is available on YouTube, from a date they played in Hamburg earlier this month (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0f5e2vn4V4&feature=related is a good starting point). Check it out. The band will, as Joe Whiting likes to say, “Thank y’all.”